Romance can be a challenging pursuit, multiplied even more so if you’re in a new country with language and cultural barriers. So how does a newcomer to Japan go about getting a date when even native Japanese can find establishing these connections difficult?
The main issue:
Foreign or otherwise, this tends to come down to shyness, or a general tendency to be less forward in social situations. This, unfortunately, can make things difficult for two people trying to establish a romantic relationship.
For some the solution might seem obvious – just make the first move yourself. However, especially if you’re a woman wanting to date a Japanese man, this can actually have the reverse effect. It’s important to understand that despite the shyness, there can also be a strong element of pride that makes men in particular adverse to being on the receiving end of such forwardness.
So, what should you do?
Japanese people use the phrase “Dandan”, or “taking it gradually”.
It’s important to find an initial point of connection. Most Japanese people tend to like foreign nationals who show an active interest in Japanese culture. Not only do they find it endearing that someone from another country is interested in their culture, it also establishes a basis for some common ground.
So first and foremost, one of the best things to do is find a distinctly Japanese hobby or pursuit. This could include anything from studying a traditional Japanese martial art to a craft such as “sado” (tea ceremony) or “ikebana” (flower arrangement), just to name a few. It can even be something more casual – developing an interest in popular Japanese music, cuisine, or “sake” (alcoholic beverages) such as “Nihon-shu” (rice wine).
In my own experience, I developed an initial connection with my current partner through a mutual interest in kendo, or the art of Japanese fencing. It’s important to share some common ground, or at least create an opportunity for an extended conversation, or even for them to teach you something.
What about language?
This tends to be a concern for a lot of Japanese people when it comes to the idea of dating a foreign national. Unless your initial introduction takes place somewhere such as a language school where your communication is primarily in English, it’s best to know at least basic Japanese.
If you’re getting to the point where it seems like your relationship could progress further, make sure you know these crucial phrases:
Suki desu (pronounced: ski des) – “I like you.”
Watashi mo ski – “I like you too.”
Tsuki-at kuda sai – “Please go out with me.”
It may sound silly, especially to someone from a Western background, but in Japan, it’s important to be clear in these situations. Japanese people won’t simply assume you’ve started dating just by spending a lot of time alone together – someone eventually has to make a proposal.
Take things gradually at first. Common ground is crucial so be sure to immerse yourself in Japanese life and culture. Finally, when you’ve gotten on good enough terms with one and other, make sure you’re clear about where you’d like the relationship to head. Good communication is always the key.
All this is written from personal experience living in Japan as a foreign national and I hope it will be useful to others. Adapting to the Japanese dating scene can be a challenge at first, but with the right knowledge, it’s easy to overcome.
Gambatte! (Good luck!).